why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Resurrection is about changing our perspective --- recognizing that what once divided us ---- what once brought us so much fear is turned into an opportunity for rejoicing, new life, new hope, new possibility.
The gospel, the good news of the resurrection, the good news that we celebrate on this day --- is that there’s a different way to live, beyond the dictates of conventional society, that transcends the oppression of unjust systems that can overcome the greatest evil and wrong. The resurrection pushes us to look at things differently, regardless of what we believe --- the very idea of the resurrection compels us to ask questions --- might another way be possible, may there be more going on then I previously thought?
The women who went to that tomb in the early morning, with spices thought they were going to find the dead body of the mystical revolutionary rabbi they had followed. What they found perplexed them, an empty tomb --- and in their confusion they meet two angels who ask them a rather odd question “why do you look for the living among the dead.”
I imagine they asked that question in a kind of cocky way, like come on folks you ought to know that Jesus is alive.
But what about you and me, “why do we look for the living among the dead?”
In what ways, do we carry spices into the caves of our lives hoping just to find a corpse not a living, fleshy, wild, animated human being? Easter asks us to change our perspective, to put our trust in something more real than death, the surprising and liberating love of God.
That surprising and liberating love God makes known most fully in the resurrection --- and the story we heard read this morning from the Acts of the Apostles comes about by that same Spirit of resurrection. Peter’s speech is part of one of the most important stories in the entire New Testament, it’s about how the early church began the move from being just a peculiar and small sect of Judaism to being a global community made up of people from various cultures and races. Peter and the other apostles like Jesus were devout Jews who practiced dietary laws from the Hebrew Bible banning foods like pork and shellfish. Also, they were wary of contact and relationship with Gentiles --- anyone who was not circumcised and did not subscribe to their religious practices. The speech that Peter gives is during a visit with an Italian named Cornelius and his household. Cornelius and Peter have through dreams and visions, felt compelled by the Spirit to meet and Peter’s words, “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” marks an expansion of the Christian movement to encompass the reconciliation of all people with God and with one another.
What Peter said and did was controversial; he crossed a strict religious and cultural norm and later had to justify what happened before a group of confused and perplexed disciples back in Jerusalem.
I like to think of the Bible sometimes as a family photo album, a record of humanities long term relationship with God --- this chapter in Acts is about new family and different members appearing in the album, people who don’t share the same story, culture, or language as previous generations. As one reads the Bible from Genesis to Revelation one gets the constant sense that God cares for all people, yet decides to work with a particular few --- yet as one reads on --- we find that God’s concern for all translates into more and more inclusion of others. The Bible often reminds us that God’s household, God’s family is much more diverse, and expansive ---- than any specific, narrow arrangement of people. No matter how much we human beings might want to limit the number of people we are to care about, or the type of people we are to look after --- God is always doing something to open us up, to expand our notion of family --- calling us to pay attention and to look out for others particularly the most vulnerable among us. Biblical values are concerned not just with your family or my family but with the whole human family.
Today’s readings remind us that God’s presence is not locked up in some tomb some place but is every place including in the house of those strange and different neighbors.
The purpose of Christian living, of being people who practice resurrection is to seek to love and forgive all members of the human family as limitlessly as Jesus loves and forgives us. We are to seek and serve Jesus, not by hiding ourselves away from engagement with others who are different from us, but by being called out (the Greek word for church is ecclesia which literally means to be called out) into relationships with new and different members of God‘s family. Through the Holy Spirit --- human beings are sent out into the world to discover that our family is much larger than we realized. That our true family is not limited to the few people we happened to be born to, or married to but is among everyone.
So if the true meaning of the resurrection --- is that we can encounter Christ and the Holy Spirit everywhere and among everyone --- if the meaning of church, ecclesia is “called out” what are we supposed to do with our buildings?
Christ couldn’t sit still in the tomb on Holy Saturday legend has it that he cleansed hell, and on Sunday dashed off to Galilee --- how are we to keep up with this restless, living one? Jesus didn’t have a home of his own, let alone a synagogue, what is the church supposed to do with all her buildings?
Perhaps the invitation is for us to imagine what it would mean to make our spaces, all our spaces, our homes, our neighbors homes, our schools, our places of work, our churches ---- places where the Spirit compels us to transcend old patterns of division and embrace one another as sisters and brothers in Christ. Perhaps our spaces, all our spaces need to become intentional places of intersection, of healthy, life giving, holy boundary crossing --- where strangers become friends, and life in all its fullness is celebrated and honored.
This little church has been many things to many people through the years, listening to Ruby who turns 95 later this month, or Cathryn another long time member of our congregation --- this community in the 40s, 50s, and 60s was a bustling hub of activity where new urbanites from far away found community, comfort and inspiration. At times St. Cyprian’s was a center for music, poetry, art and activism reflecting the pressing concerns of the day. A place where the young discovered the wisdom of elders, and the dreams of youth were nurtured for a better tomorrow.
Last week St. Cyprian’s welcomed nearly 50 diverse young people from across the west coast and Hawaii --- they slept on our basement floor, hiked to Grace Cathedral to honor Archbishop Oscar Romero, showered at the University of San Francisco, prayed, sang and even preached in this sanctuary. The hospitality that St. Cyprian’s offered last weekend I believe is deeply rooted in this congregations DNA, but even more it is part of the long history of Christian hospitality and pilgrimage going back before the time of Peter in the home of that odd Italian, Cornelius.
A couple of months ago, I met a professor from the University of San Francisco --- I don’t know really much about her religious commitments, but after spending a little over an hour with her, I sensed in her a deep interest in the history and future of St. Cyprian’s. Within a few days my husband Matt and I were invited to her home in San Mateo for a crowded New Year’s party where there was a ton of delicious food and dancing. The next month she came to a Common Era meeting a gathering of neighbors and congregation members who want to help share in our dreaming about the future.
Yesterday, I entered St. Cyprian’s to let our guest organist in to practice thinking that I was going to find an empty church building --- but instead we discovered the place was full of life --- Lee, Jim, and Robyn were cleaning and decorating getting things in order for today’s worship.
Like those women long ago walking into that tomb, like Peter entering the house of a stranger --- God will show us surprising, liberating, death defying love. May we this Easter catch up with the Spirit of the living Jesus that is everywhere and among everyone --- may all our spaces become intentional places of intersection, of healthy, life giving, holy boundary crossing --- where strangers become friends, where we find ourselves part of God’s ever expanding family album and life in all its fullness is celebrated and honored.